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Top 3 Misconceptions People Make on the Geography and Culture of New Jersey

Updated on July 31, 2012

Most people are pretty myopic when they make assumptions on the geography and culture of New Jersey.

They like to use names like "Dirty Jersey" to denote how filthy the state is in their eyes. They use the term "Garbage State" instead of the proper nickname "Garden State." All they see, they assume, are smokestacks, oil refineries, chemical plants, bum-ugly swamps, and boring forests. They think that the whole state is a large toll road with a green-and-white, lozenge-shaped trailblazer shield.

Some New Jerseyans lie to people when they are out of state by telling them that they are from New York, just to escape prejudice. They don't want to be teased about their "Joisey" accent or be asked whether if they live off an "exit" or not.

"Dirty Jersey"

Why people call that when someone mentions my birth state.
Why people call that when someone mentions my birth state.

So why do people like to bash the state? Here are three reasons why they have the penchant to do so.

Consider This:

Not everyone lives within short distance off an exit off either tollway marked with its respective trailblazer (top: Garden State Parkway, bottom: New Jersey Turnpike).
Not everyone lives within short distance off an exit off either tollway marked with its respective trailblazer (top: Garden State Parkway, bottom: New Jersey Turnpike).

#1: Everybody Lives off An Exit

There are several meanings to the "what exit" joke. One refers to those of the Garden State Parkway and another to those of the New Jersey Turnpike. Some other people refer that joke to both toll roads (they are both owned by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, mind you).

Although some New Jerseyans embrace the joke, not everyone lives at most 3-5 miles off either tollway. For example, expect a person from Netcong replying, "Huh?" when you ask it.

But there's another caveat when asking the joke. Because Jersey has among the highest rates of autism in the state, it would be better to ask about the city or town he or she lives in. You really don't know if the person has the disability or not. Most people with it have trouble interpreting figurative language and the joke confuses them.

A child with the aforementioned traits would most likely picture an exit sign and ramp when asked that.

Although some residents, past and former, take it as a complement, the "what exit are you" remark should be proceeded with caution. Ask first which city/town/township/borough they live in and then ask it only if it applies to them. Neither everyone can understand the joke nor live within close distance of the Parkway nor the Turnpike.

Here Are My Former 2 Exits off the Parkway

Exits 154 and 155P
Exits 154 and 155P | Source

Source of False Guesses About Jersey's Geography in Odor and Landscape

#2: All of Jersey Looks and Smells Horrible

The big assumption about the Garden State's geography about the landscape and the odor isn't largely true.

For the most part, those who assume this merely experience Jersey via road trips from, say, their home in Hampton Roads, Virginia, to their relatives' house in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The main thoroughfare is most likely the Turnpike, where they make this rather uneducated guess.

Sure, there are parts of the Turnpike that are aesthetically better south of Exit 11, but they think that all of the state is like the oil refineries and smelly swamps north of it.

Jersey is not all chemical processing plants and Turnpike. Aside from the sheer beauty of the Jersey shore (especially if you go on low times to avoid crowds), the northwestern part is particularly stunning. The Jenny Jump mountains are a treat to see and hike. Also, there are plenty of crop-laden farms and botanical gardens. (We New Jerseyans don't call the state the Garden State for nothing!)

If you go to any one of these, chances are that you'll smell fruits and flowers.

Here's one tip to prove yourself that the state isn't as bad as you may think. Coming from the George Washington Bridge, go south on Route 95 (Yes, that part from the bridge to Route 46 has been part of the Turnpike since 1992. And most Jerseyans call each numbered state highway, interstate, and US highway a "route.") and go west on Route 80.

While on it, I suggest that you take any exit in Warren County (or Morris, of which I suggest getting off any one west of Route 287, thank you). You'll see that the state has more than just a toll road.

"Jersey Smells and Looks Bad!"

If only people see it beyond this toll road marked by the sign with a green and white symbol...
If only people see it beyond this toll road marked by the sign with a green and white symbol...

Bergenfield May Look Like Any All-American Town

...and how it is! A lot of Filipino immigrants live there (besides Jersey City, of course) as well as other people regardless of background!
...and how it is! A lot of Filipino immigrants live there (besides Jersey City, of course) as well as other people regardless of background!

#3: All New Jerseyans Are Italians

If you have watched mob dramas and reality shows about college-aged people down the shore (what a lot of Jerseyans call the beaches and coastal towns on the state), chances are you assume this.

But not all New Jersey residents pump their fists to pulsating music like champs. Not all of them have rock-hard abs, tans, and spiked hair. Not all of them shop at the malls.

Take a look at the pictures on photo-sharing sites and web videos that show the Jersey farther beyond those shows. You see people of all walks of life ambling down the streets of Montclair, West Orange, Margate, and wherever else. While it has a large Italian population, it also has a considerable Polish, African-American, and Irish population.

But that doesn't stop there. It has among the highest Filipino populations in the US. Take a look at Bergenfield, for instance. It may look like a charming town fit for, um, one English-speaking race, but it has a quite high number of those who emigrated from the Philippines and their progeny. But other races also mingle with them as well.

So wean yourself off those shows with blatant Italian American stereotypes, as well as assumptions about the geography. Go to the photo-sharing sites and look at random photos of Jersey. Watch videos of a high school basketball game or special event that involves all walks of life in the state. If you see a high school marching band from Jersey in a major parade, be thankful for them, not scornful for their state.

Interesting Facts About New Jersey (Besides Not Pumping Gas)

  • Kingda Ka, located at (Six Flags) Great Adventure, is the tallest roller coaster in the world.
  • Party City, the store where you buy party supplies and costumes, is headquartered in Rockaway.
  • Bergen County has one of the last remaining blue laws in effect (shopping restrictions and select store closures on Sundays). One of the reasons why is because they want to make residents at ease with major highways like Route 17 in terms of traffic. Talk about getting to the church on time, huh?


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    • talfonso profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      Thank you for commenting! Someday I think you should take the unbelieving to the state, travel west of Route 287, and see the good parts of the state. Take them to Waterloo Village, for instance, and all perceptions about New Jersey being a reality show set would disappear like magic.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I feel bad for New Jersey for how they get such a bad rap in pop culture. I'm a native North Carolinian and didn't meet anyone from New Jersey until I went to college. And I was happily surprised, they were just students who just wanted to be like everyone else.

      In many ways, it seems like New Jersey has become the new region of stereotypes but as your hub illustrates you should never judge a state based on their reality show. This was a very enjoyable hub to read.


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